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tv   [untitled]    February 12, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EST

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half. good afternoon, everybody. >> good afternoon. >> nice to be here with you. as you can see, this is not the way we ordinarily do class. we don't always have a film crew from c-span 3 here. we are lucky to have them here today. bought of the lights, it's going to be warm here. we have each got a bottle of water. thank you so much, dave. caitlin, thank you all. all right. there you go. all right. so, as i said before, what we were going to do today is concentrate on the year 1963 and more specifically, on the glin l rights movement and the life of martin luther king and at the
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center of that is not only what happened in birmingham itself but the letter from the jail, one of the most important documents not only in modern african-american history but also modern american history as a statement of political and religious philosophy and a statement of strategy and tactics. i love the letter. i tried to write a book about it once. i still may get to do that. the letter to me is something every time i go at, i learn more from, which is one of the reasons why i teach this course, as you know. every time i get deeply into martin luther king, i learn more from him. knoa lot. we have watched eyes on the prize. you have seen film of the civil rights struggle. you have read the chapter in harvard's biography. version of the civil rights struggle. now it's time to have conversation.
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why? why is birmingham -- why is the birmingham struggle so important in the history of the civil rights movement. torey? >> because of the albany thing, all the failures that happened birmingham -- >> may i interrupt you? what failures. by and large. we study him because he was a great suyomean by that? >> the cities he went to weren't working out well. then when he went to albany, it was one of the worst failures. there were a lot of different reasons why it happened. they had too many demands? >> who is the they? >> sboc.
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>> southern baptist christian organization. happened in albany? marris, take a stab at that. torey called it a failure. >> it was a failure. they did not manage to cause conflict. >> you mean the civil rights people? the civil rights marchers and activists were looking to cause a conflict but couldn't do it? >> yeah. >> why not? >> because they were just arrested. the police did not respond in a violent manner, they arrested them and released them the next day. >> anybody else on albany? heather? >> the groups didn't work together. they were competing against each other. >> isn't that weird. they had exactly the same goal, right? in a real hostile environment and here they are competing with each other. why were they competing with each other?
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what do you think, trey? >> for attention to see who -- they basically hated each other. >> they hated each other? isn't that strong? what do other people think about that? >> there's a lot of tension between the two groups. they competed for the most attention. >> they competed for attention. what was -- what's going on? >> the main reason why they were so incompetent, they both had the demands. >> what do you mean by different types of demands? they weren't focused, right? >> one specific thing that was being done. it was being too lenient in their demands and was only gonna
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compromise with what they were given. >> so you really said that beautifully. he wanted to get rid of the structure of segregation and albany hadn't figured out how to do it. sclc was made up of older people by and large. generally men, ministers who wore suits and personally conservative in their world view as opposed to the younger students, male and female, were not so formal and they wanted to get rid of segregation all at once. that focused on martin luther king himself, right? what was the problem with people and king? what was going on there? he was in kind of a sophomore slump after montgomery. it was going on for some time. the success of montgomery in what year? starts in '55, when does it end? oh.
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it ends in late 1956. you know that. you know it. you got frozen by tv cameras being in the same room. the sophomore slump would have been '57. nothing much happened in '57. then' 58 could have been the junior slump and '59 could have been the senior slump. he missed the boat at first. what happened at the freedom ride in '61? he didn't go, right? and the young people wanted him to go and he refused. some people thought they was a little full of himself and afraid for his own personal safety. some of that stuff came about also in albany in 1962 where
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king would fly in and they would accuse him of flying out. the problem with being on the ground is the cameras would leave when king left. people took to calling him -- remember what they called him? the lord, right? it's not just the lord, right? it's meant to kind of stick a knife in and twist it some, right? they thought he was too pompous. too prone to make a relationship between himself and jesus, right? so they called him the lord. they respected him enormously, but they knew they were about something different. albany was fresh in everyone's mind especially fresh in king's mind. so, huge amount of failure. we know it's more than a sophomore slump. it's gone on for a long time. no success for the movement. then we come to birmingham. birmingham turns out to be really important. how did they approach birmingham? >> they were more organized. >> they were a lot more organized. what did they call it?
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what did the guy on the ground in birmingham call it? project c. that was c for what? c for confrontation. so, what marris said about what was not happening in albany was birmingham, right? this is weird. re martin luther king who is supposed to be the non-violence guy. he's supposed to be the he ended up being a martyr. and talked about how to love your enemies t so, here he is, specifically going after a civil rights tactic that is called project c for confrontation. what does that do about how you think about king? what do you think? >> it changes my perspective. >> did you have a different perspective on martin luther king before you got into the course and this section of it?
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you thought he didn't want to make trouble. really? >> i realized he expected -- >> he expected an uproar to force the president of the united states to intervene. that's an amazing thing, right? here he is an african-american preacher in the deep south, in the united states in the segregated south in the early 1960s and he is ambitious enough to think he can get the president of the united states, the leader of the free world, right, to intervene on behalf of people that the president would never have met or known anything about. so, i think a bunch of you may have thought that martin luther king was the kind of less interesting of the civil rights leaders, right? the one who wasn't militant. you had thoughts about that. >> systematic militant way of thinking and we tend to think of
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it, we tend to think of it as malcolm x as one of the most militant black leaders of that time. so, viewing with king's philosophy is contradicting itself. >> the standard way in which american culture thinks of malcolm x and martin luther king. he's a martyr, by the way. by any means necessary. exactly. so that makes him seem the tough guy. where as king, it's odd because physically, they are different, too, right? malcolm x, describe him physically. >> tall, masculine. >> tall, masculine, thin, too, right? really thin. martin luther king, he's short and chubby.
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he's got full cheeks. appears to have soft skin. he's shorter than most of the people around him. that was a surprise, right? you think of him as a . he's shorter than i am and i'm short. they are so different that he looks like the soft guy and malcolm x looks like the hard, tough guy. malcolm x had been a criminal. he had been a thief. he spent time in prison. he's got that romance about him that he walked on the dark side. then come to different way of seeing the world. yeah? >> accused king of being an uncle tom and his followers and he constantly preached black militants. >> exactly. he had the mantle of being the real militant and they were the uncle toms, the folks that would give away the store. hold that when we get to the
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letter. king says something about malcolm x without naming him by name in the letter. when i first read the letter, when i began to learn about the movement, i thought malcolm x was the tough guy and king was the softy. king was the easy going guy, the christian love thing. it never seemed to me to be the tough thing. >> turn the other cheek. >> turn the other cheek and let someone smack you. that doesn't feel good. it doesn't feel good at all. it has to do with the discipline. it's extraordinary. it's something king's followers took to heart. project c which gets us to birmingham is known as that for confrontation. how would you say it went in the first couple weeks?
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you are shaking your head. shay? >> backfiring. the chief there took -- he used what happened in albany from the police chief and he decided to do the same thing. he put them in jail as he did. he didn't use bombs or anything like that. >> he didn't use overt violence at all. what's most amazing, you are saying now, some of the people in our audience who tend to be my name know the name of the police chief. they know it really, really well. they know it as the name of one of the most violent police chiefs towards black people in the 20th century. here, you are describing the beginning of this campaign and he's not doing anything violent? >> bull connor. >> bull connor. that's right. he loved that nickname.
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understandable. it's a hard handle to go around with. this is a guy who had been police chief running for mayor. was involved in the governance of the town, had a long history of beating up black folk. when this campaign, this national campaign comes to birmingham, he studied with the guy at albany. not only did he not provoke violence, but martin luther king went home with his tail between his legs. the movement was a flop. he thinks okay, if i don't do that, then the movement is not going to be successful. what do they need? they need media. they need confrontation. they need folks buying a newspaper. they need pictures. they need the cops acting badly. he's not going to give it to them. so, we know that it wasn't going
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well. we know that it wasn't going -- yes. >> running out of money? >> yes, the movement was running out of money because there were so many people in jail they didn't have enough money to bail them out. this was really serious. so things got really grim for the movement. here, fred had been on the ground, did all this planning, right? he checked out the distance between, you know, to every store, every lunch counter to figure out how long it would take to walk there. he counted the lunch counters. he tried to do his own military preparation for this. bull o'connor outsmarted him. they had 700 people in jail in early may of 1963 and they didn't have the money to get them out. it was getting harder and harder to find people to go to jail.
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birmingham was a funny place. what was weird about birmingham in its history? what did folks call it across the south? bombingham. why did they call it that, heather? >> because it was known for like degree bombed by the kkk. >> it was known for bombing black people. the kkk had a free hand at bombing black people. when we studied the freedom riders, the birmingham police pulled back and allowed the kkk 15 to 20 minutes to kick the tar out of the freedom riders. birmingham had a violent civil rights history. it was very, very powerful. they expected they were going to get a confrontation. they didn't. but given even so, in birmingham, there was a black community, a more middle class
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black community that was trying to exist without making waves. they figured if they made a few waves, some stuff would come their way. it really did, often. martin luther king spent a lot of time in birmingham trying to explain why he was engaging in the demonstrations to black folks who didn't want him there. he was making their lives more difficult. he was making waves not only for white people, but more waves for black people and stirring them up. it got hard to find enough people to go to jail. can you imagine being in a place like birmingham and going to jail in even if you are not beaten up, what could happen to you? what? >> lose your job. >> you lose your job. absolutely. maybe not just you.
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maybe your aunt, your uncle, your brother or sister or your kids. to be willing to march for civil rights in birmingham, alabama in 1963 as an adult black person, i can't imagine the courage involved. i don't understand how people did it. and the kind of things that they were facing. so, we come to good friday. this is one of the centers. history is messy. there's not always one clear center. there are a couple centers. one center is good friday. martin luther king announced his intention to have a march on good friday. bull o'connor has gotten a court injunction against over 100 named people, a federal injunction saying don't march. you can't march.
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the number of things they said illegal, unbelievable. there's a long list, including, you are laughing. do you remember what they are? >> i'm waiting for you to say it. >> you have heard it before. you couldn't have a kneel in. you couldn't have a pray in. you couldn't have a sit in. you couldn't do anything. so, that injunction was a serious piece of business. martin luther king had to take it very seriously. so, he and his lieutenants, including his father who come over from atlanta gathered in a room at the gaston hotel. the only motel that would rent to them. the guy who owned that motel was the richest african-american in that country and they charged them market rates. the biography of it is birmingham's black millionaire. he's one of the guys. he's one of the guys for whom
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waves were being made. can you imagine charging market rates to the southern christian leadership. charging market rates to martin luther king when he comes to fight segregation in your town? he was skeptical. didn't give him a discount. 20 of them gathered. a guy that was beaten so many times by the cops, it's amazing what he went through long before martin luther king got involved in civil rights. they are in that room and arguing it out. if king goes on the march, he knows he'll be arrested. he's the chief fund-raiser for the civil rights movement nationwide. the movement is broke. if he's in jail, who's going to raise the money? he's the only face that's known outside of alabama and the deep south. among all the people that are there. he was constantly going to new
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york and other northern places to try to raise money for the movement. if he's in jail, it can't happen. yeah? >> if he didn't go to jail, the media would leave because they needed something big. him going to jail would be the best thing for them. >> that would be the best thing. plus, plus, if he didn't go to jail, it's like him not going on the freedom right, not getting kicked and beaten the way the students did. not putting his life at risk for going ton the bus. what kind of leadership is that? he's publicly announced a march and he decides not to do it. the courts give him an injunction. what does the movement look like then? it looks terrible. the two sides, it was hard to know what to do. it was really hard.
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he liked to listen to people fight it out and make a decision. this was particularly difficult. it's good friday. for a preacher, good friday is a big deal. it's the march was supposed to start at 1:00. it's approaching noon on good friday. the time when jesus was supposed to be on the cross. preachers think about this stuff. there's sacrifice going on. easter weekend is the holiest weekend in the christian calendar. martin luther king as he says in the letter was not only a preacher, what else was he? the son and the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. he may not have started off believing as strongly. he was a party guy in school. by the time he got here, he was immersed in his faith. it was easter coming. so he goes into his room. he leaves them all fighting outside. he goes into his room for 15 or 20 minutes. i have read five accounts of this.
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people disagree about how long he was in there. everybody says the same thing. when he came out, he was wearing jeans and a denim jacket. what kind of clothes are those? >> casual for what he usually wears. >> what did it mean that he was wearing those clothes? he was going to jail. they were going to jail clothes. they were not fund raising clothes. those were going to jail clothes. andrew young sets his eyes on the prize. at that moment he says this, i don't know what's right. i don't know what's going to happen. i have to make an act of faith. and i'm going to march. it's an astonishing thing, right? he didn't know. if he didn't know, who was going to? he didn't know what was going to happen. i have to make an act of faith. he turned to ralph, his closest friend since montgomery. i love this story. he puts his hand on his jacket
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and says ralph, i need you to come with me. he says martin, you don't have to preach on easter sunday in two days. because king had gone back to atlanta to be on the staff of his father's church so he didn't have to preach every sunday. he still had a congregation in montgomery. he says i have to preach on sunday. king, he loves people who call him martin. people did call him martin. he says ralph, i need you to come with me. ralph goes, oh, i guess i'm going to jail on easter. i better call my deacons. so he knows he's not having to preach on easter sunday. he and martin luther king walk out and lead a demonstration and what happens? they get arrested really fast. i think they managed to walk two
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blocks and they are arrested. the cops pick -- they almost literally pick him up, by the belt in the back. they lift him and toss him into the wagon. yes? >> i was reading and i was shocked at the kind of religious parallels between king and what's in the bible. with him going, kind of going to jail, you could say he's being crucified and coming back and rejuvenating it. it was staggering once you look at it. >> it is why i find this entire story so tremendously moving. it's exactly that. it's exactly that. because he was arrested, and they didn't just put him in jail, they put him in solitary confinement.
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they put him in the hole. the only light came from a little window as he wrote later at the top of the cell. he was alone in a tomb-like place for easter weekend. exactly what happened to jesus. right? taken down from the cross that afternoon. taken to a tomb. he was there three days, right? martin luther king didn't see anybody except sort of the jail gave him food, until, let's see, what did he see? until monday morning. three days. the same three days his lawyer visited him. here, he spends easter with no human contact. in the dark. and you know he's thinking about what you were thinking about, right? it is staggering. so, cut him a little slack.
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he occasionally makes references like he's like jesus. here he was reliving and for all he knew, rediing. what happened to jesus? it's a powerful story. so, on monday, he gets the sunday papers and he sees that letter that we are going to look at in just a little minute and writes a letter from birmingham jail. it's all he's concerned about for the next week in jail, writing that letter. they are wondering, what the hell is going on here. he sees there's something big here. every night he would have it typed up. he would have his secretary type it up and smuggle in fresh paper so king could keep writing. he gets out of jail after eight days. where would you say the movement is? it's pretty bad. did they get money?
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actually, you are forgetting. they did. where did they get it from? harry gave them -- >> $50,000. >> $50,000. that was big money in those days. 50,000 bucks in 1963, it's at least a quarter million dollars. it's a lot. it's what they needed. there's a new biography out, maybe autobiography harry wrote called "my song." he got deeply involved in the civil rights movement and he was a wealthy man. he knew other wealthy people because of being in showbiz. they had money, but what else did they have? they had nothing. the media was starting to leave town. why did i say earlier it was may? it was april. the media was starting to leave town. what happened? what happened, sean? >> ha was the idea behind the
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march of the children? how did that come about? >> adults had a lot to lose marching. they could lose their jobs. more responsibilities than the children did so they decided to get the children there. if they got arrested, they wouldn't have much to lose. >> what would they miss if they got arrested? >> school. >> come on. how many kids are upset at missing school. >> also it sparked a reaction from people. if the police decided to use violence, it would look worse on tv for everyone. >> it turned out that the police, they held off for a little while. but, eventually, they packed the jails so much and they got under bull connor's skin and pushed him so what happened? they pushed and pushed. what happened shay? he retaliated. how did he retaliate?


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